Tears, relief, and gratitude as Jordan vaccinates Syrian refugees

Tears, relief, and gratitude as Jordan vaccinates Syrian refugees
Zaydeh, 64, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari camp receives her COVID-19 jab. (Raed Omari)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Tears, relief, and gratitude as Jordan vaccinates Syrian refugees

Tears, relief, and gratitude as Jordan vaccinates Syrian refugees
  • Dozens of elderly Syrians receive their vaccinations at Zaatari camp in Jordan
  • Jordan is first country to include refugees in its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive

ZAATARI REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan: For Um Ali, a 73-year-old Syrian woman living in a refugee camp in Jordan, being vaccinated against COVID-19 was a moment of overwhelming emotion.

“I really feel more secure now from the corona that has added a lot to our burdens,” the mother-of-five said, her eyes filling with tears. “For an old woman of my age, receiving the vaccine was such a great blessing. Thank you Jordan.”

Um Ali was vaccinated against the disease on Monday at the sprawling Zaatari refugee camp, which is on Jordan’s border with Syria. Her jab was part of an inoculation drive that got underway this week at the camp, which is home to 80,000 displaced Syrians.

As the world’s wealthy countries race ahead with vaccinating their populations, Jordan has begun delivering the jab to some of the most vulnerable, those driven from their homes by the turmoil that has shaken parts of the Middle East in the last 10 years.




Zaydeh, 64, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari camp receives her COVID-19 jab. (Raed Omari)

“Jordan is the first country in the world to include refugees in its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination drive,” Mohammad Hawari, spokesman in Jordan for the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), told Arab News. “The vaccination centre in Zaatari is also the first in the world at a UN-administered refugee camp.”

Jordan started vaccinating its population on Jan. 13 and, within three days, Raia Al-Kabasi, an Iraqi living in Jordan’s second largest city of Irbid, became the first refugee in the kingdom to receive the jab.

In a country which has, throughout its history, become home to huge refugee populations, it was a moment of great significance.

“We just want life to be back to normal,” Al-Kabasi said. “The vaccine is the right way of doing this.”




Ibrahim, 72, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari camp receives her COVID-19 vaccine. (Raed Omari)

Hawari said that a total of 52 Syrian refugees were vaccinated on Monday and another 44 on Tuesday. He said the drive was going smoothly.

The camp, one of the world’s largest, has recorded around 2,000 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic.

Hawari added that 2,000 Syrian refugees had signed up with the government to receive the jab. Of these, 1,200 qualified under the kingdom’s priority system for the elderly, health workers, and those with chronic health conditions.

The vaccines were administered by Jordanian health authorities and the National Center for Security and Crisis Management, with the UN providing logistical and administrative support.




A UNHCR worker talks with two elderly Syrian men at the camp. (Raed Omari)

Despite spending another cold winter in the camp, refugees spoke of their relief and gratitude for being able to receive the jab.

Ibrahim Elhamad, 69, arrived in Jordan in 2012 as the conflict in Syria was unfolding.

“I feel really privileged to receive the vaccine in a refugee camp when other people in advanced countries are unable to,” he told Arab News.

Jordanian officials have said that everyone living on Jordanian soil, including refugees and asylum seekers, are entitled to receive the vaccine for free. It plans to immunize 20 percent of its 10 million population by the end of the year.




Yahya, 65, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari Camp has his temperature taken before receiving his COVID-19 vaccine. (Raed Omari)

Hawari said that Syrian refugees in urban centers in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid and Ramtha would also receive COVID-19 vaccines.

“In fact, the vaccines will be given to all refugees and asylum seekers of different nationalities living in Jordan.”

According to the UNHCR, around 10 percent of Jordan’s population are refugees.

Among them are 655,000 Syrians, 67,000 Iraqis, 15,000 Yemenis, 6,000 Sudanese and 2,500 refugees from 52 other nations. More than 80 percent of them live outside refugee camps, in cities and towns.




Omar, 65, a Syrian refugee living in Zaatari Refugee Camp receives his COVID-19 vaccine. (Raed Omari)

“In also vaccinating refugees, Jordan has again proved that humanity is at the heart of its policies and decisions, especially when it comes to refugees' lives and dignity,” Hawari said.

Last month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Jordan had set an example of how tackling the coronavirus “should be done if we are to keep everyone safe.”

Jordan has included refugees in its national response plan since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.




Doctors and nurses help refugees prepare to receive their COVID-19 vaccine in Zaatari camp. (Raed Omari) 

Dominik Bartsch, the UNHCR’s representative to Jordan, recently said: “Reducing the spread of COVID-19 now necessitates that the most vulnerable people in our society and around the world can access vaccines, no matter where they come from.”

This year UNHCR Jordan is appealing for $370 million to help refugees, to cope with the additional challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
Updated 17 min 51 sec ago

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all

Former Mosul priest: Pope’s Iraq visit a ‘precious gift’ for all
  • ‘Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long,’ priest tells Arab News
  • Pope Francis due to arrive in Baghdad on March 5

ROME: The pope’s upcoming visit to Iraq is a “precious gift” not only for the Christians who live there, but for all those who after years of war want a return to peace and coexistence between religions, a priest who worked for eight years in the diocese of Mosul told Arab News.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Pope Francis is coming … to invite us to all be instruments of peace,” said Jalal Jako.

“Like a dove, he’ll bring a twig of peace to all the people living in this land who’ve suffered for too long.”

Jako, currently in Italy, will return to Iraq for the pope’s visit, which will begin on March 5. The pope will be welcomed by Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad and then visit the country’s president at the presidential palace, where he will meet with local authorities, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic corps.

Pope Francis will also meet with bishops and priests at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad.

On March 6, he will fly to the city of Najaf and meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. The pope will return to Baghdad that day and celebrate Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph.

On March 7 he will visit Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and meet with religious and civil authorities of the autonomous region. He will also visit the city of Qaraqosh. His return to Rome is scheduled for March 8 from Baghdad.

Jako said: “We can’t fail to be there at such an important moment for us Christians — the first visit of a pope to Iraq. He’ll tell us, ‘No more blood, live all as brothers.’ Thus he’ll send out a message that all the Iraqi people need.”

Jako added: “Pope John Paul II was supposed to come on a pilgrimage in 2000 … but it wasn’t possible for him. Pope Francis is keeping his predecessor’s promise to come to Iraq to visit a Christian community that today has only 500,000 faithful, a third of the number who lived there in 2003. He comes as the leader of a Church that respects all religions and aims to build peace.”


Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
Updated 28 February 2021

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19

Israel vaccinate Palestinians with Israeli work permits against COVID-19
  • Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines
  • Of the 5.2 million people, only 32,000 have received the vaccine to date

JERUSALEM: Israel will administer COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel or in its settlements in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli liaison office COGAT said on Sunday.
The vaccination campaign, which could apply to around 130,000 Palestinians, will begin within days, COGAT said.
Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian Workers’ Union, said thousands of Palestinians who work in the Israeli service and industrial sectors had already been vaccinated privately by their employers inside Israel.
He said Palestinian medical teams would be stationed at checkpoints to administer the vaccines, by agreement with Israeli authorities.
Israel has given at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine to more than half of its 9.3 million population, including Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
But it has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable vaccination of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestinians have received around 32,000 vaccine doses to date, for the 5.2 million people who live in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli officials have said that, under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian health ministry is responsible for vaccinating people in Gaza and those parts of the West Bank where it has limited self-rule.


Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
Updated 35 min 57 sec ago

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules

Jordanian ministers sacked for attending dinner breaching COVID-19 rules
  • A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people
  • The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic

AMMAN: Two Jordanian ministers resigned on Sunday for violating coronavirus-containment regulations, days after one of them had vowed “zero tolerance” against COVID-19 rule breakers.

Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh asked Interior and Justice Ministers Samir Mubaidin and Bassam Talhouni to step down for violating the defense order put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

A government source told Arab News that al-Khasawneh's directives, which were immediately endorsed by King Abdullah, came after the two ministers were at an event that brought together more than six people.

A local news website said the pair had gone to a dinner at an Amman restaurant attended by nine people, in violation of a defense order that allows a maximum of six.

Mubaidin chaired a meeting with senior security officers last Thursday where he had stressed the need to abide by defense orders, notably following the curfew, wearing masks and physical distancing. 

He vowed “zero tolerance” against violators, adding that these measures were aimed at protecting public health.

A royal decree was issued on Sunday accepting the resignation of Talhouni and Mubaidin. 

Another decree assigned the deputy prime minister and minister of local administration, Tawfiq Kreishan, to take on the Ministry of Interior, and for the minister of state for legal affairs, Ahmad Ziadat, to take on the Ministry of Justice, as of Sunday.

Jordan has toughened its health regulations, reinstating a curfew on Fridays and extending lockdown hours, with the country witnessing a surge in coronavirus cases. It has recorded around 387,000 COVID-19 infections and 4,675 deaths.

The sackings come amid Jordanians’ increasing unease about the handling of the pandemic.

“The sacking of the two ministers should have been in fact linked to the failure in handling matters related to citizens’ lives, including vaccines, the health situation and food security,” political analyst Amer Sabaileh told Arab News.


Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya
Updated 28 February 2021

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

Turkey summons Iran ambassador over accusations Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty: Al Arabiya

CAIRO: Turkey has summoned the Iranian ambassador over accusations by Tehran that Ankara is violating Iraqi sovereignty, Al Arabiya TV reported Sunday. 

Turkey said it expects from Tehran to stand by Ankara in “combating terrorism”. 

Last week, Iran summoned the Turkish ambassador in Tehran over comments made by Turkish officials accusing Iran of destabilizing the region by getting involved in Iraq and Syria. 


Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark
Updated 28 February 2021

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran health ministry says virus deaths cross 60,000 mark

Iran's health ministry said the country's coronavirus fatalities broke the 60,000 mark on Sunday, as the Islamic republic battles the Middle East's worst outbreak of the illness.
"Sadly in the past 24 hours, 93 people lost their lives to Covid-19, and total deaths from this disease reached 60,073," health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in a televised address.
Iran has registered a total of 1,631,169 infections, according to the ministry.